St. Patrick’s Day and the modern Bacchanalia
The Irish Diaspora (and those who join in for the fun) mark March 17th as St.Patrick’s Day, Ireland’s national holiday; and an occasion to partake in raucous alcohol- fueled revelry.
Legend says that St. Patrick arrived in Ireland in 432 and died on 17 March 440 – or maybe 461 – but there is no firm record of this exact date. It does however match the date of a more ancient festival, preceding Patrick’s era.
The Roman feast of the Bacchanalia – a homage to Bacchus, the God of wine – was originally celebrated on March 16th and 17th. Initially attended only by women in a secluded grove on the Aventine Hill, once men were allowed to attend it became notorious as an occasion of drinking, sexual licentiousness and immorality – even by classical Roman standards.
The cult of the Bacchanlia was severely restricted by Roman authorities around the turn of the common era, but it never entirely died out – especially in rural Italy and other far-flung parts of the Empire; and in common with other pagan and ‘old religion’ festivals, went in search of a Christian saint to graft itself onto.
St. Patrick himself was a Briton, not Irish born; though spent many years there as a captured slave tending livestock. The year of his arrival – 432 AD – is curiously significant in that it – or standard multiples thereof – appears in many Middle Eastern numerology texts. The precession of equinoxes occurs over a period of 25,920 years; which is 432 * 60. In the Norse sagas, at the time of Ragnarok, 800 soldiers will issue from 540 gates of Valhalla – a total of 432,000.
Insofar as nobody knows with any certainty exactly when St Patrick arrived in Ireland, the consensus on the date of 432 AD seems to have not been chosen at random, and may have some serendipitious import.